Tuckaleechee caverns in located in Townsend, TN which is about a 30 minute drive from Pigeon Forge, TN. It is off the beaten path in a very rural setting. It is close to the Cades Cove park.
We decided to do Cades Cove and Tuckaleechee caverns in the same day. We did Cades Cove early in the morning and then went over to the caverns. The caverns were only about a 10 minute drive from the cove and it was easy to find. They had very good signs pointing the way.
Once at the caverns, we went inside the small building that lies at the base of some steps. The building houses the ticket counter and a small gift shop. Once at the ticket counter, we paid our admission which was $14 per person (2008). Tours start every 30 minutes and a tour had just started when we had arrived. So, the gentleman at the counter walkie-talkied the tour guide & let him know 2 more would be joining his tour. We were led down some stairs and around a ramp into a cement room. In the cement room, the guide pointed out a salamander that was hanging out in there (since Gatlinburg and surrounding areas are well known for their large salamander population). We were then shown a steep set of stairs, and instructed to make our way to the base of the steps to meet up with the tour that had just begun. Once at the base of MANY MANY MANY steps, we met up with the guide. He then walkie-talkied the man upstairs to make sure no on else was joining the tour & we were on our way. Our tour consisted of about 20 people, not too large & not too small. We were told that on busier days, the tour can be up to 40 people.
We were led around the caverns by our guide. The caverns are dimly lit, with accent lights on the formations. Our tour guide did carry a flashlight & would shine the flashlight on some of the formations as we went by as well. He also used the flashlight to point out places to watch as you were walking (steep path or low ceiling). It was kind of hard to hear everything he said, since we were at the back of the group. BUT I did here most of it. He told us the history of the caverns..about how they were privately owned by 2 men who used to love to play in the caverns as boys. He did explain some educational things about formations and how they form. He also told about the water levels in the caverns during droughts and extreme times of rain. He mentioned that there had been times when the caverns had filled almost all the way up with water after large rains. The caverns are really cool in temperature & our guide mentioned that they are a constant 58 degrees. He did talk about the bats in the cave and that many people would ask about the "black" formations..which were really large piles of bat droppings (guano). He also told us that mascara contains bat guano. EWWWWH. He explained how the caverns were prepared for visitors..the construction of the pathways, bringing in the concrete and electricity. That was pretty interesting.
Along the way were saw some really pretty formations. Most of the formations were cream or tan in color. There were a few that were green and some that had a reddish color to them. Some of the formations were really large and others were small. There is a small stream that runs behind and through the caverns. You will see it as soon as you enter the caverns. It was really pretty. Our guide explained that depending on the amount of rain..you can hear the water behind the rock. The guide was always helpful to point out the formations & to recommend to take a photo (if we were not going to be passing it again). He gave us plenty of time to stop and take photos & did not rush anyone. There were several formations that I found to be particularly nice, including the big room.
One of the best parts of the tour was when we entered the "Big Room". We were standing on what seemed like the edge of a cliff. It was kind of erie. Looking out across the way, you could see some formations that looked like cactus. The guide explained to us their actual size & how it was an optical illusion that they did not look as tall as they actually are. Overhead and to the side of the big room, the guide pointed out a formation called a chandelier. At this point, he had everyone back up against a wall that had a bench along it, where you could sit down. He then turned out all the lights in the big room. It went pitch black. There was not even a glimmer of light from anywhere. This was really neat. It was so quiet and dark..so peaceful. It was so still and calm in the dark in the big room. It was a really great experience. One I will never forget. After a few minutes, he turned the lights back on and we resumed our tour.
We made our way back the way we had come, back to the base of the stairs that had led us into the caverns. This ended the 1st half of the tour. The 1st half of the tour has some steep inclines, several steps, wet walkways and low ceilings. However, this is also the half that has the most opportunity for photos of some really beautiful formations. < At this point, the guide said if you didnt want to continue the tour you could exit via the stairs. OR if you wanted to take a break..you could wait there for the next tour to come through (in about 30 minutes) and resume your tour then.> We continued with the tour to the 2nd half. The 2nd half of the tour is all level walking, little to no steps, and high ceilings. The second half has fewer formations, but is the half with access to the stream and waterfall.
The 2nd half of the tour begins by us making our way around the bend and crossing over a foot bridge(over the stream). You will get a good look at the water here. It seems like you are standing at the edge of a riverbank or beach. If there has not been any rain, the guide says you can take a taste of the water in the caverns since it is like 97% pure. It had rained the day before, so he did not recommend drinking it on the day we were there. He did say you could walk to the edge and touch the water if you wanted. As you make your way to the back of the cavern, you will near the waterfall. It is not a huge roaring waterfall, but it is still pretty. They do have lights shining on the falls to illuminate the water & it really helped to accent the water in pictures. They also have lights tucked in up at the top of the falls so you can see the area that the water is coming from. The tour guide allowed us to remain in this area for quite some time, taking photos and asking questions about the caverns. From here, we turned back and made our way back out to the area where we had entered the caverns. On our return trip to the entrance, we were up front on the tour so we could hear better. Our guide was a very sociable guide. He answered our questions and was really down to earth. He even offered some recommendations for things to do and see while in the area. He was really friendly!
Once back at the base of the steps, the guide let everyone rest for a few minutes, before climbing the stairs...steep & MANY MANY steps. He told us how many steps we woud climb in our total tour of the caverns & I can't remember now--but I remember thinking..."WOW thats a lot". He told us to take our time making our way back to the top. Once at the top of the steps..inside the cement room...the guide thanked us for coming & told us to come back again & to tell others about our trip to the caverns. He said we could rest there on the benches or just make our way back into the main part of the building where the gift shop was. He told us to check out the post card of the man standing next to the "cactus" formation...so we could see for ourselves what an optical illusion there was in the caverns regarding the size of the formations. We did find the post card & he was right!
The gift shop was a small little shop that sold nick-nacks, t-shirts, and souveniers. I didnt find anything that I had to have, but did spend a few minutes checking it out. I believe there was also a little snack bar area on site there as well. I didnt really check it out since I was headed back to Pigeon Forge for lunch at the Old Mill. They do have restrooms on site, out back in a separate little building. They are small, but were for the most part clean & served their purpose.
Overall, Tuckaleechee caverns is a really nice place. The formations are pretty and the waterfall is an added bonus on this tour. The lighting in the caverns is all natural white light, so you see the formations in true color. The big room and the complete darkness was truly an amazing experience. I really appreciated this portion of the tour & would do it again..just for this brief moment of complete stillness..unlike anything I have ever experienced!!!. The paths are for the most part, easy to walk..but some portions are steep or wet. So careful footwork is necessary. There are MANY steps here, so you must be able to climb steps, bend and stoop. Some ceilings are very low (4 feet) and will require you to bend over while going up & down steps. The guide does his best to point out tricky areas such as low ceilings or areas that require careful footwork. The guide does stop periodically along the tour, which allows people to catch their breath (if tired or short of breath). He did stop a few times to allow people to catch up with the group..so no one gets left behind (even if they are slow stair climbers).
I would recommend Tuckaleechee Caverns for anyone who likes nature & is able to manuver the pathways and steps. You will see some really nice formations and a pretty waterfall. Also, you will for a brief moment, be completely at one with nature in the "still of the night" when the lights go out in the big room. It is a nice attraction to do on a hot day..since it is nice and cool in the caverns. It would also be a good attraction to do if it is kind of rainy outside, since it is dry inside the caverns. This tour will take you about an hour, maybe a little longer. I think our tour was about 1hr and 20 minutes from start to finish.
Note: The caverns may not be the best activity for someone who gets short of breath easily or has some physical limitations. I felt this was something they should have posted a sign about OR warned visitors at the time of purchasing tickets. I was fine, but I did notice some visitors getting short of breath, stopping, and needing to make use of the benches along the way. Please keep this in mind if you are traveling with the elderly OR someone who has physical limitations.
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